Hong Kong’s Adventurous Side: Hills, Mountains and Sea

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A member of the Hong Kong Trampers sits atop Tai Mo Shan, the island's highest peak. Photos by Antonio Graceffo
A member of the Hong Kong Trampers sits atop Tai Mo Shan, the island’s highest peak. Photos by Antonio Graceffo

By Antonio Graceffo

Trekking up a steep knife-edged ridge, covered in late-season grass, the slope gently dropped off on either side.

To my right, the green rolling hills were expansive, filling the horizon with a never-ending panorama of undisturbed nature. To my left, an easy bluff eventually gave way to a sharp drop of approximately sixty meters, ending on a sandy beach.

Lazy blue waves broke mildly against the dark jagged forms of age-old rocks. Further out, fishing boat and sampans sailed along the point where sky and earth meet, silently going about their business, as they had since time immemorial.

Alone in a Peaceful World: in Hong Kong

A warm wind blew across the soft peak, and with the exception of my mates, I was alone, in a peaceful world, recovering from the stresses of modern society. Just a few kilometers away lay the hyper-modern center of Hong Kong, with its busy financial district and high-rise bank buildings.

Most visitors to Hong Kong know the SAR (Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China) as a shopping paradise, famous for fine dining, luxury accommodations, and spending money. But Hong Kong is also a tropical island, covered in green peaks and surrounded by a stunning ocean.

Sailing and Much More

Sailing, ocean kayaking, indoor and outdoor rock climbing, trekking and hiking, paddling, running, cycling, orienteering, paintball, horseback riding, martial arts, and some of the most developed gyms in the world, are just a few of the active vacations available.

A view of Hong Kong Bay
A view of Hong Kong Bay,

The island offers an excellent alternative for those seeking adventure, without sacrificing comfort. Imagine waking up in a plush hotel, driving forty minutes to a day of rock climbing, and then spending an evening at the theater, followed by a gourmet dinner, and topped off by dancing in a first-class night club.

You could spend the next day orienteering in the billowy foothills, and your evening sailing in Hong Kong bay.

If you are on a tight budget, you would be surprised at the number of sports activities that are available to Hong Kong tourists for little or no money.

For this particular trekking adventure, I hooked up with The Hong Kong Trampers, a club with no administration, no applications, and no membership forms. Best of all, Trampers is a club with no fees.

As they say on their website, “We are a group of friends who enjoy exploring Hong Kong’s countryside on Sundays.” Each week they go on a new trip. Interested parties can go to their site at hktrampers.com to find out the time and place. The trampers will meet up in a given MTR station, and then head out to the hills.

The author's hiking companions
The author’s hiking companions.

For Hong Kongers, a trip to the hills is a good way to get some relief from the constant hustle of life in the economic tiger.

With a population of 6,898,686 people crammed into an area of only 1,042 sq km, Hong Kong has one of the highest population densities in the world. The population is nearly 30% of Taiwan, but with only 3% of the landmass.

Very Developed

To truly appreciate how developed the SAR is, you need only to climb to the top of Tai Mo Shan, at 3,143 feet (958 m), Hong Kong’s tallest peak. With a gentle mountain breeze cooling your skin, you will feel free as a bird.

Apart from the breathtaking scenery, trekking in Hong Kong can be a great fitness activity, as well as a way of making friends. The day that I met with the Trampers, we were hiking Yung Shue O to Hoi Ha, near Sai Kung Town. The group was made up of fifteen people, ranging in age from eight
to forty-four.

Our eight-year-old was a star hiker, who loved going on treks with his father. On this particular weekend, the regulars were discussing which of their members had just completed the Oxfam Trail Walker, a 100 KM walking race, through the attractive island countryside. Other members were training for the Hong Kong marathon, while others had no experience at all.

All the hikers made it to the top.
All the hikers made it to the top.

A group of nice young ladies employed in a Kowloon bank told me that this was their first time doing anything physical in their life. And, while they needed a bit of patience and assistance to complete the 12 KM course, they all made it.

Well-Marked Trails

The trails in Hong Kong are well mapped and marked, with a degree of difficulty readily available. So, it is easy for you to find a route and a distance, which fits your level of physical fitness. Our trek began with a forty-minute climb up Jacob’s ladder to Au Mun.

This was a paved staircase, built into the side of the mountain. It was extremely difficult, but hikers were free to stop, drink water, or rest where needed. Not wanting to lose my macho façade, I tried to keep up with the leaders. When I got to the top, I was completely out of breath, and very concerned about altitude sickness.

“Is it possible to get altitude sickness up here, like those people who climb Mount Everest?” I panted, while I emptied an entire water bottle down my parched throat.

Francis, the leader, was probably both the oldest and fittest of the men in the group and had already run to the top and back down several times, to check on the stragglers. He assured me that although I felt we had just climbed to the sun and would melt, like Inheres, in actuality, we had only ascended five hundred meters

One of the trails up Tai Mo Shan
One of the trails up Tai Mo Shan.

“Maybe I am a little out of shape,” I said, diving into the kilo of chocolate cookies I had planned to eat for lunch.

The group was worried about the bank ladies, who had fallen way behind.

“Do they have GPS?” I asked.

“As long as they stay on the stairs they can’t get lost.” Said Steven, an American student studying Chinese at the university.

“Maybe I should still leave some cookie crumbs for them to follow,” I suggested.

Help the Beautiful Ladies

Francis asked for a volunteer to hang back and help the bank ladies. Of course, I jumped at the chance. Not only did this mean that I could go as slowly as I wanted to, without looking like a weakling, but I got to spend the day with some very beautiful girls. Sham, a Singaporean computer technician on holiday also volunteered to help. So I loaded him down with the girls’ backpacks, leaving me free to fraternize

Once the stairs were behind us, the way became much easier. At times the trail took us along a ridge, with a beautiful view of valleys below. At other times, we walked through the forest, under a canopy of green. We crossed streams and skipped from stone to stone.

There were grassy peaks where we waded through waist-high grass. By the time we made our final descent, we had gotten some much-needed exercise, made some new friends, exchanged phone numbers, and most importantly, we had seen a side of Hong Kong most visitors would never know.

Trekking with the trampers was just the first in a long series of adventures I had planned in Hong Kong.

Adventure writer Antonio Graceffo is the author of several books including “Bikes, Boats, and Boxing Gloves, Adventure Writer in the Kingdom of Siam.”